Monday, May 26, 2003

U.S. Demands That Iran Turn Over Qaeda Agents And Join Saudi Inquiry

New York Times
May 26, 2003

The United States is pressing Iran to cooperate with the investigation into the recent bombings of foreign compounds in Saudi Arabia and to hand over operatives of Al Qaeda believed by American intelligence officials to have been working on Iranian territory, Bush administration officials said today.

The officials said the American message to Iran demanding the turnover of Qaeda suspects was delivered this month, shortly after the bombings in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, and also after American intelligence picked up indications that Qaeda members based in Iran might have been involved. The attacks on May 12 killed 34 people, including 9 Americans.

Since the war in Afghanistan that followed the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the Bush administration has held a series of secret meetings with Iranian officials. The meetings have taken place in Europe and New York and were not discussed openly by American officials until recently.

''We passed them a message instead of meeting them face to face,'' a senior administration official said. ''The message was that this Al Qaeda link is very serious. We and others concerned about the Saudi bombings have made clear that Iran needs to cooperate with the Saudi investigation, and there's no reason to allow Al Qaeda on Iranian territory.''

Iranian officials have repeatedly denied any involvement with Al Qaeda.

In an interview on the ABC News program ''This Week,'' Iran's ambassador to the United Nations, Javad Zarif, said Tehran was cooperating in attempts to control Al Qaeda, but would not respond to ''the language of pressure.''

He said Iran had arrested members of the terrorist network, was interrogating them and would share information with other governments. But he added that if there were members of the network operating in Iran, it was without the government's knowledge or beyond its control.

Commenting on a report in today's issue of The Washington Post that the United States had cut off diplomatic contacts with Iran and was considering steps to destabilize its government, Mr. Zarif said ''certain elements'' in Washington had always held that ambition.

An administration official said today that an interagency meeting of top American officials had been scheduled for Tuesday and that one topic of discussion would be whether to suspend further diplomatic contacts with Iran. The official said that without signs of Iranian cooperation, it was possible that such contacts would be suspended indefinitely.

Another administration official said there had been no ''across-the-board decision to never talk to the Iranians again.'' He and others have said there has been some evidence of cooperation by Iran in the last year or so on some issues, particularly in standing aside while American troops operated in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The new demands on Iran were nonetheless described as a factor sharpening an administration debate over what to do about Iran, which along with Iraq and North Korea was listed as a member of President Bush's ''axis of evil'' in early 2002.

There is also a debate in intelligence circles about the reliability of the links between the Saudi bombings and Al Qaeda in Iran. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld suggested last week that there was ''no question'' of such links, but others are said to disagree.

''There is a dispute in the intelligence community about what the latest evidence represents,'' an administration official said. He said that intercepts and so-called chatter of talk about the bombings could be interpreted different ways, and that there was disagreement over ''whether it represents a link to the Saudi bombings or to the Iranian regime.''

Administration officials also said there was uncertainty about the exact nature of the links between the Iranian government and Qaeda members, who are apparently operating in northern Iran after being driven from northern Iraq by American and other forces in the recent war.

It could be, some officials said, that such groups use Iranian territory temporarily but not necessarily with the approval of the government in Tehran, or that while some parts of the Iran government want them to leave, others want them to stay. This complex reality offers a particular challenge to American policy makers, various officials said.

The Bush administration's usual divide between hard-liners and those favoring diplomacy has now opened on Iran, officials said. On one side are those who say Iran has been cooperating in a few limited but helpful instances, including a willingness to hand over some suspected terrorists with links to Al Qaeda to Saudi Arabia and Pakistan last year.

In response, the administration has made certain gestures to Iran, like listing an Iraq-based Iranian opposition group, the People's Mujahedeen, as a terrorist group. Some officials say there is still a chance for diplomatic pressure to work with Iran, particularly if Russia, other European nations and China are enlisted.

But many administration officials skeptical of the efficacy of diplomacy in dealing with terrorists have grown alarmed about recent Iranian actions. There is heightened concern that Iran is supporting Shiite Muslim groups in Iraq, including armed groups seeking to destabilize the American and British occupation and even to take control of Iraq itself.

Of greater concern, according to American, European and Israeli officials, is the acceleration of Iran's nuclear weapons program, particularly at a facility to produce highly enriched uranium in the country's central desert. The Natanz facility was not known to nuclear inspectors until late last year.

Iran asserts that its nuclear programs are strictly for its energy needs, not weapons.

The Bush administration is pressing the International Atomic Energy Agency to issue a finding soon that the Natanz facility is, contrary to Tehran's assertions, intended for the production of fuel for nuclear weapons, a violation of Iran's obligations to maintain a peaceful nuclear program as a signatory to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

According to administration officials, a major debate is unfolding in the administration about Iran, somewhat comparable to the debate over Iraq in the early days of the the Bush presidency, and then again after the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington.

As before, hard-liners at the Pentagon -- with some support from the office of Vice President Dick Cheney -- are said to favor a policy of confrontation, or are at least threatening confrontation, with the government in Tehran.

The official administration position has also been to advocate a form of ''regime change'' in Iran, by supporting the elected government of President Mohammed Khatami in its battle with hard-line clerics.

But some in the administration are said to favor firmer action, including even the possibility of a military strike against the Natanz facility and more active support of Iranian opposition groups, including the Iraq-based People's Mujahedeen.

The People's Mujahedeen has been the focus of particular uncertainty in American policy circles, administration officials say. After listing it as a terrorist organization as a gesture to Iran, American military officials signed a cease-fire with it as they extended their occupation of Iraq this year.

At the time, American officials said their aim was to disarm the People's Mujahedeen so that it could not longer operate. But an administration official said there was now a move afoot among Pentagon hard-liners to protect the group, and perhaps reconstitute it later as a future opposition organization in Iran, somewhat along the lines of the American-supported Iraqi opposition under Ahmed Chalabi that preceded the war in Iraq.

While Pentagon officials have pressed the possibility of engineering such changes in Iran, others, primarily in the State Department, are said to be highly skeptical of that line of policy. Among other things, they note that George J. Tenet, the director of central intelligence, has testified that even the secular ''moderates'' in Iran favor development of nuclear weapons.

''Sure, there are some in the administration who would like to see a revolution in Iran,'' an administration official said. ''But that's fantasy stuff.''

Tuesday, May 20, 2003

A Terrorist U.S. Ally?

A Terrorist U.S. Ally?

New York Post
May 20, 2003


May 20, 2003 -- ONE of the stranger news items coming out of Iraq these days concerns an Iranian opposition group called the Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK). It's a U.S. government-designated terrorist organization that coalition forces first bombed from the air, then signed a cease-fire agreement with - and finally disarmed and protected.

Say that again?

The MEK is not your typical anti-Western group, but an organization with a strong political presence in Western capitals and over 3,000 soldiers stationed in Iraq, singularly dedicated to one goal: overthrowing its "archenemy," the Islamic Republic of Iran. Of course, during its 17 years in Iraq, it also had to do Saddam Hussein's bidding. This situation raises several questions:

Is the MEK a terrorist group? No. It used terrorism decades ago, when its members attacked Americans. For the last 15 years, however, the MEK has been organized as an army, and its only violent actions have been directed against the Iranian regime.

Unlike Hezbollah (which targets Jewish community centers and shoots rockets into civilian areas), the MEK attacks specific regime targets. Unlike the PLO (whose leaders were terrorists more recently and arguably still are), the MEK really has foresworn this barbaric tactic.

Can the MEK liberate Iran? No. Its strategy of invasion by an army can't work. The foul theocracy in Tehran will come to an end when the democratic forces in Iran finally manage to push it aside. Foreigners can best help them by encouraging satellite-television transmissions from Iranians living in free countries (as U.S. Sen. Sam Brownback has recently proposed).

Can the MEK be useful? Yes. Western spy agencies are short on "human intelligence" - meaning spies on the ground in Iran, as distinct from eyes in the sky. Coalition military commanders should seek out the MEK for information on the Iranian mullahs' agents in Iraq.

The MEK can also supply key information on developments in Iran - where, despite a tendency toward exaggeration, it has had some major scoops. Its information in mid-2002 about Iran's nuclear program, for example, was better than what the International Atomic Energy Agency knew, thereby leading a shocked U.S. government to kick off an investigation that confirmed just how far advanced the Iranians are toward building a nuclear bomb.

Policy toward the MEK has long been quietly but intensely and bitterly debated in Washington. To curry favor with Iranian "moderates," the State Department in 1997 designated the group as a Foreign Terrorist Organization. Although 150 members of Congress publicly opposed this designation, a U.S. court of appeals recently upheld it.

This stark difference of views helps explain Washington's erratic policies of late. On April 15, the U.S. Army signed a cease-fire permitting the MEK to keep its weapons and use them against Iranian regime infiltrators into Iraq. This deal infuriated the State Department, which then convinced the president to undo it, leading to the strange sight of U.S. troops surrounding MEK camps on May 9, disarming its fighters and taking up positions to protect them.

That's a bad idea. Coalition forces are urgently needed to restore order elsewhere in Iraq. And State is dreaming if it thinks the sight of U.S. troops guarding the MEK will mollify Iran's mullahs.

Instead, as the U.S. Army recommends, MEK members should (after giving assurances not to attack Iranian territory) be permitted enough arms to protect themselves from their Iranian opponents. And in November, when the secretary of state next decides whether or not to re-certify the MEK as a terrorist group, he should come to the sensible conclusion that it poses no threat to the security of the United States or its citizens, and remove it from the list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations.

Finally, because Iran's mullahs irrationally fear the MEK (as shown by their 1988 massacre in the jails of Iran of 10,000 long-imprisoned MEK members and supporters), maintaining the MEK as an organized group in separate camps in Iraq offers an excellent way to intimidate and gain leverage over Tehran.

To deter the mullahs from taking hostile steps (supporting terrorism against coalition troops in Iraq, building nuclear weapons), it could prove highly effective to threaten U.S. meetings with the MEK or providing help for its anti-regime publicity campaign.

Daniel Pipes is director of the Middle East Forum. Patrick Clawson is deputy director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy

Monday, May 12, 2003

Iranian Fighters Based in Iraq Begin to Disarm

Iranian Fighters Based in Iraq Begin to Disarm

Los Angles Times
May 12, 2003
By Eric Slater

AL KHALIS, Iraq, May 12 — A heavily armed Iranian opposition group that the U.S. has listed as a terrorist organization began handing over its weapons to U.S. troops in eastern Iraq on Sunday in exchange for security guarantees.

Under a deal reached Saturday, the several thousand members of Moujahedeen Khalq have seven days to relinquish all heavy weapons and equipment and turn themselves in. Members of the organization, which was backed by Saddam Hussein, also have agreed to be interviewed by intelligence officials.

"When finally accomplished, the peaceful resolution of this process will significantly contribute to a safe and secure environment for the people of Iraq," the U.S. Central Command in Doha, Qatar, said in a statement.

"Coalition forces are ensuring the security of" the Moujahedeen Khalq, Central Command said. The group fears retribution from Iranian groups as well as anti-Hussein forces.

Moujahedeen Khalq's capitulation comes less than a month after U.S. forces agreed to a cease-fire with the group, which is known by the initials MEK. That agreement, which let the group retain its weapons, drew criticism from Iran and sparked controversy in Washington.

Calling the cease-fire "a severe blow to America's prestige," Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi said last week that the deal "showed that the administration is not honest when it talked about terrorism."

Some U.S. officials have questioned the propriety of agreeing to a cease-fire with Moujahedeen Khalq, whose members have killed U.S. citizens.

But others argued that the U.S. should support the group, which has long opposed the Iranian government labeled by President Bush as part of an "axis of evil." And because Moujahedeen Khalq worked closely with Hussein's government, it may be a source of information on both the former Iraqi regime as well as on Iran.

It was unclear Sunday why the U.S. had struck a new agreement with Moujahedeen Khalq.

Although the cease-fire allowed the group to keep its weapons, the deal required it to stop operating checkpoints between its five main bases and the Iranian border. Reports have circulated here in Al Khalis, 30 miles north of Baghdad where the group has a camp, that the Moujahedeen Khalq raised the ire of Army officials by again setting up the checkpoints to monitor traffic along the border. Those reports, however, could not be confirmed.

The move to disarm Moujahedeen Khalq began Friday, when the U.S. sent tanks, armored personnel carriers and hundreds of troops to surround its compounds.

Army Maj. Gen. Ray Odierno of the 4th Infantry Division met that day with the group's secretary-general, Central Command said, and less than 24 hours later the group agreed to a new set of rules.

Members will be allowed to retain small arms for personal protection and wear their dark-green uniforms but otherwise will have little say over their activities for the foreseeable future.

By most definitions, the new agreement amounts to a surrender, but U.S. military officials have declined to call it that. Central Command dubbed the development "the voluntary consolidation of MEK forces."

At a U.S. Army base near one of the group's camps Sunday, Capt. Josh Felker, an Army spokesman, said, "This is not a surrender, it's a disarmament process. The MEK was never fighting coalition forces."

Founded in the 1960s by well-educated leftists, Moujahedeen Khalq is considered the largest and most violent group of exiles seeking to undermine the Iranian government.

In the 1980s, most of the group's members, including leader Maryam Rajavi and her husband, head of the military branch of the group, were forced into exile, and the group based itself in Paris. In 1986, the group found a new home in Iraq and set up bases to make cross-border raids into Iran.

In 1998, the group assassinated the head of Iran's prison system, and in 2000 it killed the acting director of the Iranian army.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Abrams tanks that had surrounded the camps Friday turned their barrels around and were protecting the sites.

"They are a very respected fighting force, and as such we are treating them" courteously, Felker said. "Even though they are recognized as a terrorist organization, basically we don't want to disrespect them. Coalition forces will not allow any other forces to occupy Iraq at this time."

Excerpts from LA Times, May 12, 2003

Sunday, May 11, 2003

Iranian opposition guerrillas submit to US control in Iraq

Iranian opposition guerrillas submit to US control in Iraq
Agence France Presse
May 11, 2003

NEAR MUQDADIYAH, Iraq, May 11 (AFP) - The Iraq-based armed Iranian opposition, was expected to begin submitting heavy weapons and thousands of fighters to US control in Iraq on Sunday, US officers said.

The disarmament deal was struck Saturday after two days of talks between leaders of the People's Mujahedeen and US 4th Infantry Division commander General Ray Odierno at a guerrilla base in northeastern Iraq.

Odierno said the group's cooperation with US forces and its commitment to democracy in Iran meant its status as a "terrorist organization" in Washington should be reviewed.

"I would say that any organization that has given up their equipment to the coalition clearly is cooperating with us, and I believe that should lead to a review of whether they are still a terrorist organization or not," he said.

Under the agreement, the Mujahedeen’s fighters -- many of whom were educated in the United States and Europe -- will gather at one of their base camps in northeastern Iraq.

Their equipment, enough for a mechanized division, will be collected at another camp and both camps will be guarded by coalition forces.

Odierno, speaking to AFP after negotiating the deal near the Iranian border on Saturday, said the weapons would not be available to the guerrillas "unless we agree to allow them to have access".

"It is not a surrender. It is an agreement to disarm and consolidate," Odierno said.

"It's clear to me that they are passionate about their beliefs and they believe in a democratic Iran. I probably didn't quite understand that when I began this process."

The Mujahedeen has been using Iraqi soil as a base to attack the Islamic regime in Iran for more than a decade. Iran has also labeled it a terrorist organization.

But Odierno admitted that it shared "some of the same goals" as the United States in "forming democracy and fighting oppression".

The group will also prove an invaluable source of information about an Iranian-backed Shiite militia group, the Badr Brigade, one of the Americans' main military concerns after the collapse of Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq.

Odierno has said he believes the Badr Brigade is still being used as a tool for the "enforcement" of Iranian influence among Iraq's Shiites, which account for an estimated 60 percent of the Iraqi population.

Badr is the military wing of Iraq's main Shiite opposition party, the Supreme Assembly of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq. Its leader Ayatollah Mohammed Baqer al-Hakim made a triumphant return to Iraq on Saturday after 23 years of exile in Iran.

In contrast to the standoff between US and Badr forces in Iraq, US and Mujahedeen troops have mingled cordially during the discussions here in recent days. The group agreed peacefully to hand over its checkpoints in the area to US forces.

Saturday, May 10, 2003

US says Iran opposition in Iraq agrees to disarm

US says Iran opposition in Iraq agrees to disarm
Agence France Presse
May 10 2003

NORTHEASTERN IRAQ (AFP) - US forces struck a disarmament deal with the Iraq-based Iranian armed opposition, a group listed as a terrorist organisation in the United States, a US general told AFP.

The People's Mujahedeen's thousands of guerrilla fighters and heavy weapons are to assemble in camps in Iraq under the control of the US-led coalition, said General Ray Odierno, commander of the US Army's 4th Infantry Division.

"It is not a surrender. It is an agreement to disarm and consolidate," Odierno said after winding up two days of talks with the group, which has been termed a terrorist organisation by the US State Department, the European Union (news - web sites) and Iran.

Speaking at a Mujahedeen base near the Iranian border, the general said they appeared to be committed to democracy in Iran and their cooperation with the United States should prompt a review of their "terrorist" status.

"I would say that any organisation that has given up their equipment to the coalition clearly is cooperating with us, and I believe that should lead to a review of whether they are still a terrorist organisation or not," he said.

The Mujahedeen's 4,000 to 5,000 fighters -- many of whom were educated in the United States and Europe -- would gather at one camp in Iraq while their equipment, including scores of tanks, would be collected at another, Odierno said.

Both camps would be guarded by coalition forces and the weapons would not be available to the Mujahedeen "unless we agree to allow them to have access", the general said.

The fighters, including a large number of women, would not be categorized as prisoners of war but they would be under "coalition control." Their status would be decided by Washington at a later date.

They are likely to face brutal retribution if they are repatriated to Iran, while asylum in the United States could fuel charges of double standards in the US fight against terrorism.

Asked what role they could play in the future of Iraq, Odierno said only that they shared similar goals to the United States in "forming democracy and fighting oppression" and that they had been "extremely cooperative."

US and Mujahedeen troops have mingled cordially during the discussions here over the past two days, although the US military was taking no chances with regular overflights by F-15 bombers and Apache attack helicopters.

Washington's dialogue with the Mujahedeen has infuriated Iran, which has accused the United States of hypocrisy in its "war on terror".

Also known by its Persian name Mujahedeen-e Khalq, the group has mounted major attacks inside Iran and has been fighting to overthrow the clerical regime in Tehran since shortly after it seized power.

US officers are concerned that if the group is rendered powerless, rival guerrillas from the Badr Brigade, the Iran-based military wing of the main Iraqi Shiite faction, will gain influence in the region.

U.S. Troops in Iraq Begin Disarming Iranian Opposition Group

U.S. Troops in Iraq Begin Disarming Iranian Opposition Group

The New York Times
Saturday, May 10, 2003

BAGHDAD, Iraq, May 9 — Acting on a decision by President Bush, American commanders in Iraq have begun efforts to disarm an Iranian opposition group whose status had been the subject of weeks of review at the highest levels of the Bush administration.

American military officials have been meeting in recent days with leaders of the group, the Mujahedeen Khalq, to work out arrangements for taking the group's weapons and ensuring that it can no longer operate in Iraq.

The Mujahedeen Khalq has been designated a terrorist organization by the United States, but the terms of an April 15 cease-fire agreement with the military let the group keep most of its weapons. The group maintains camps near the Iranian border, and before the war it operated with the support of Saddam Hussein's government.

The cease-fire deal was supported by American military commanders in Iraq, who were looking for a practical way to deal with the group without saddling already burdened American forces. At the same time, the agreement provided an opening for civilians at the Pentagon who argued that it should be followed by a decision to amend or eliminate the group's terrorist designation. Then, the argument went, it could be used by the United States as a check against potential Iranian meddling inside Iraq.

Administration officials and military officers in Baghdad said today that the issue was not completely resolved until this week, when the question of the group's status was debated by the so-called principals' committee of Mr. Bush's top security advisers and was then ultimately decided by the president himself.

State Department officials said the question of whether to disarm the Mujahedeen Khalq had been the subject of sharp debate with Pentagon officials. But Douglas J. Feith, the under secretary of defense for policy, said tonight that the "characterization was not accurate." He said the Pentagon's position has consistently been that the group "is a terrorist organization and should be disarmed."

Since they were first disclosed by the military's Central Command late last month, the terms of the cease-fire agreement has raised questions about the consistency of American counterterrorism policy. The Mujahedeen's designation as a terrorist group, which dates back to 1997, sets the organization in the same category as Hamas, Hezbollah and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

In the debate, State Department officials argued that any accord that allowed the Mujahedeen Khalq to keep its weapons would make the Bush administration vulnerable to charges that it maintained a double standard on terrorism, with exemptions available to groups battling targets like Iran, which the White House has called part of an "axis of evil."

"The United States government does not negotiate with terrorists," Cofer Black, the State Department's counterterrorism coordinator, said in expressing that view late last month. The Mujahedeen's "opposition to the Iranian government does not change the fact that they are a terrorist organization," he said.

The Iranian group has no known ties to Al Qaeda, but its members killed several American military personnel and civilian contractors in the 1970's and supported the takeover of the American Embassy in Tehran in 1979. It has carried out dozens of bombings that were aimed at Iranian military and government workers but that also killed civilians.

Still, the group has dozens of supporters on Capitol Hill who have suggested that designating it a terrorist organization, first done by the Clinton administration in 1997, was a political decision meant as a gesture to Iran that could legitimately be reversed given new concerns about the situation in Iraq.

The role being played inside Iraq by Iranian-backed forces, most notably a group called the Badr Brigade, has been the subject of much attention within the administration. Pentagon officials have described it as an attempt by Tehran to project influence among Iraq's majority Shiite population.

The Mujahedeen Khalq numbers about 10,000 people in Iraq, including about 3,000 who are believed to be fighters. They have been stationed in five camps near the Iranian border.

According to administration officials and American officers, the group has generally been complying with the terms of the cease-fire negotiated last month and has presented no threat to American troops. All of its tanks and heavy weapons were shifted to the east toward Iran. The cease-fire has been monitored by Army helicopters and American Special Forces.

American military commanders originally intended the cease-fire to be followed up with a "capitulation" agreement that would entail taking away some, but not all, of the Mujahedeen Khalq's weapons. Under that plan, now discarded, the idea had been to create a balance of power so that the group could fend off attacks by Iranian agents and the Badr Brigade, the Iranian-backed group of Iraqi exiles. This, American military commanders hoped, would avoid a situation in which American forces would have to be deployed in the area or interposed between the Mujahedeen Khalq and the Badr Brigade. But they were overruled in Washington.

Under the new arrangement, the Mujahedeen would be required to hand over all its weapons and move to designated safe areas, officials said. The American military will then take on the responsibility of guarantee the group's security and stabilizing the region.

Military officials in Washington said today that the April 15 cease-fire had always been regarded as nothing more than an interim step, and that the United States had always held out the option of forcing the group to surrender completely.

"It was one of those situations where we told them, `There could be further action down the road, like surrender, and if you've committed atrocities in the past few years, we'll get you for that, too,' " a military official said.

A Defense Department official said the initial American goal had been to ensure that the group would not pose a threat to allied troops.

But in the long term, this official said, "you can't have an armed belligerent force, which is also a terrorist organization, operating in a free Iraq."

The military officials said that many details about the surrender are yet to be resolved, including who exactly surrenders, whether it be all 3,000 fighters and their 7,000 dependents, or just the leaders, and whether the group is to be disbanded.

Over the past several days, Maj. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, the commander of the Army's Fourth Infantry Division, has been meeting with the group to work out details, American officials said.

Friday, May 02, 2003

Iran Opposes U.S. Accord With Fighters Based in Iraq

Iran Opposes U.S. Accord With Fighters Based in Iraq

New York Times
May 2, 2003

Iran's Foreign Ministry today criticized the American cease-fire agreement with an Iranian guerrilla group based in Iraq, accusing the United States of hypocrisy in claiming to fight terrorism and in its efforts to reshape Iraq.

The ministry's spokesman, Hamidrez Assefi, said the truce with the group, Mujahedeen Khalq, or the People's Mujahedeen, in Iraq was evidence of American ''weakness'' and ''lies in combating terrorism.'' He rejected the accusations by the United States that Iran was meddling in Iraq's reconstruction, saying, ''Occupying Iraq is an obvious sign of interfering into affairs of a country, and an occupier cannot accuse others.''

His remarks came a day after Iran's supreme religious leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, denounced the arrangement with the guerrilla group, saying the United States had proven that ''bad terrorists are only those who are not America's servants.''

United States military officials signed the cease-fire agreement with the Mujahedeen Khalq on April 15 and announced it on Wednesday. The truce allows the group, which is listed by Europe and the United States as a terrorist organization, to keep its weapons in return for not committing hostile acts against American forces.

The State Department's counterterrorism coordinator, Cofer Black, said on Wednesday that the cease-fire was a tactical decision by military commanders and that the issue would be addressed in the coming days and weeks.

From its bases in Iraq, the Mujahedeen Khalq has carried out assassination attacks against the Iranian government, and it has also been accused of killing several members of the American military as well as civilians working on defense projects in Iran before the 1979 revolution. Iran had hoped that the group would lose its foothold in Iraq after the collapse of Saddam Hussein's government and had demanded that its members be handed over to Iran.

Iran has expressed concerns over American plans in the region, and it will be the host for a meeting of the Organization of Islamic Countries on May 28 to discuss Mr. Hussein's fall and the presence of United States forces in Iraq, the Islamic Republic News Agency reported today.

For its part, the United States has accused Iran of trying to interfere with efforts to form a new government in Iraq and of sending agents to promote a Shiite theocracy there.

Iran has long allowed an Iraqi Shiite group, the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, to operate on its soil. The group's leader, Ayatollah Muhammad Bakr al-Hakim, has in the past called for an Iranian-style Islamic revolution in Iraq, but has recently said he would support a democratic parliamentary system in the country. He said he planned to leave Iran for the the city of Basra in southern Iraq, and would then go to the Shiite holy city of Najaf.

Iran's hard-line Revolutionary Guards have trained the Supreme Council's military wing, which is known as the Badr Brigade. The United States has said that the Badr fighters have crossed into Iraq and are promoting efforts to install Shiite rule.

Early this month, another Iraqi exile in Iran, Kadhem al-Husseni al-Haeri, issued a religious edict urging Iraqi Shiites ''to seize the first possible opportunity to fill the power vacuum in the administration in Iraq.''

In Tehran today, Mr. Assefi, the Foreign Ministry spokesman, rejected American claims that Iran was behind efforts to install Shiite clerics in office. ''The Islamic Republic, as a country neighboring Iraq, respects the rights of Iraqi people in deciding their future and believes a democratic government, elected by the free will of people, can secure stability in Iraq and in the region,'' he said.

He also took exception with the United States' declaration this week that Iran was the world's ''most active sponsor of terrorism.'' He called the accusations baseless, and he also rejected recent American accusations that Iran was developing a nuclear weapons program, repeating the Iranian government's assertion that its nuclear program was fully accountable and was for energy purposes only.

Thursday, May 01, 2003

U.S. Acts to Limit Influence Of Iran in Iraq's Politics

U.S. Acts to Limit Influence Of Iran in Iraq's Politics

New York Times
May 1, 2003

The American military has begun to capture suspected Iranian agents and is planning to station military forces along the major routes from Iran to try to stop infiltrations by Iranian-backed forces.

A group of fighters from the Badr Brigade, Iraqi exiles backed by Iran, was recently apprehended by American forces in northern Iraq, American officials disclosed on Tuesday. The forces had jeeps and were equipped with rifles and other arms. They were detained as they moved toward southern Iraq.

The White House has warned Iran not to capitalize on the power vacuum and confusion after the ouster of Saddam Hussein's government to interfere in Iraq's affairs.

But now the American military is enforcing that warning by trying to stop Iranian-based forces from entering Iraq and agitating here.

''We will take steps to suppress any threats to security and stability, and that includes Iranian forces that don't comply,'' Maj. Gen. William Webster, the deputy commander of the allied ground command, said in an interview.

''We are going to increase our focus on routes from Iran,'' General Webster added. ''As the country becomes more stable, we can structure ourselves to shift to the east.''

In recent weeks, there has been a steady trickle of intelligence reports about efforts by Iran to influence and shape events inside Iraq.

Iran, in the view of American analysts, does not welcome a strong American role in Iraq, which would extend American political and military influence in the region.

Under this assessment, Iran is not looking to confront American forces but to influence events so that the United States fails in its effort to shape Iraq and decides to leave. Also, according to this view, Iran does not want Iraq -- a rival that it fought in a long and bloody war -- to become powerful again.

Some groups that have links to Iran have been peaceful. The Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, a group of Iraqi Shiites led by Ayatollah Muhammad Bakir al-Hakim, has been careful not to challenge publicly the American role in Iraq. It took part in a recent meeting of Iraqi leaders in Baghdad organized by American officials.

But American officials have received repeated reports through intelligence channels that Iranian agents and Iraqi exiles supported by Iran have been slipping across the border. Some have been returning to Iraq, gathering arms and setting up headquarters in towns in the south, where they have been trying to recruit supporters and organize demonstrations.

General Webster said that the American military was not looking for a confrontation with Iran, but would engage Iranian-backed forces that ventured into Iraq to undermine stability there.

American forces, in fact, have already detained a small number of suspected agents who have made their way across the border, he said.

Policing the porous Iraq-Iran border is very difficult, especially for an American force that is trying to bring order to Baghdad and stabilize the cities in northern and southern Iraq. The American military has used helicopters to keep an eye on the Iranian border.

But as Iraq becomes more stable, General Webster said, American forces will shift more of their attention to the east and focus on routes from Iran.

The Badr forces have long been a cause of American concern. The organization is made up of Iraqi Shiites who took up arms against the Hussein government and who are affiliated with the Supreme Council political organization.

The Badr brigade can be broken roughly into three groups: fighters who waged a largely unsuccessful guerrilla insurgency in southern Iraq against the Hussein government; fighters who have taken refuge in the northern Iraq; and fighters now returning from Iran. It is the last group that is of most concern because those fighters are believed to be under Iranian influence.

According to reports, between 1,500 and 5,000 Badr fighters have left Iran for northern Iraq in recent months. Iranian intelligence agents and members of Iran's Revolutionary Guard are believed to be among them, American officials say.

American officials have also been concerned about the presence of Iranian agents and sympathizers in Kut and Amara and in the stretch of eastern Iraq that runs from Amara to Basra. It is not easy to uncover the agents among the many Iraqi refugees who sought shelter in Iran and now want to return.

The main worry is that Iran will expand its influence in the major Shiite cites of southern Iraq, like Najaf and Karbala.

From Iran's perspective, the Americans' presence in Iraq may be cause for concern, as well. The Americans have concluded a cease-fire with the People's Mujahedeen, an Iranian opposition group that has taken refuge in Iraq. The group had links to Mr. Hussein's government and has been branded a terrorist organization by the United States.

The cease-fire arrangement allows the group to keep its weapons as long as it does not threaten American forces and stays in specially designated areas. It is still unclear what long-term arrangements will be made to handle the group.

With more than 100,000 troops in Iraq, the Americans have a formidable ground force in place with no set timetable for leaving. That is also a worry for Iran, which now confronts American forces to its west in Afghanistan, American bases to its north in central Asia, and American naval and air forces to its south in the Persian Gulf.

Military operations are not the only way the Americans are trying to counter Iranian influence. The Bush administration says it will not accept a Shiite-dominated theocracy and has been organizing meetings of Iraqi exile leaders who are deemed generally to be acceptable to the United States.

Recently, the American military began new radio broadcasts, including one aimed at Iraqis in Iran. It said that those who return should leave their guns behind.